the Opportunity

Alumnus Named State Senate Appropriations Chair
- by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue.
Photos courtesy of the Office of Sen. Jake Corman.

...getting involved with local communities really sparked my interest.

State Sen. Jake Corman, ’90, came to then-Williamsport Area Community College as a 24-year-old returning to school after taking a break from higher education. It was a good place for him to return to the classroom, he said.

“It was a great experience; it sort of started my feet on the track for where I am today,” he said.

The “where” of today is chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the legislative body’s top leadership positions. He was elected to the seat by fellow Republican senators for 2009. The Appropriations Committee participates in annual budget negotiations and reviews all bills for fiscal impact before they go to the Senate floor.

But Corman, 44, steps into the job amid a deep economic downturn and a projected state budget shortfall in the billions by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

“I look at it as an opportunity for government to really prioritize its spending,” he said, likening it to his family of five that did not come up with new revenue but decreased spending on other items when, as the family grew, it had to devote more money to child care.

“Government is the same way,” he said. “The taxpayers aren’t an endless pot of money.”

He said state policy-makers must ask: What’s the most important thing government should be doing? “Do that, and do it well. Cut the other things,” he said.

While the result will be a more efficient government, he acknowledges there will be pain along the path to achieve it. When unemployment rises, it prompts both increased demand for state services and decreased tax revenues to fund those services, which will be a huge challenge for the legislators. But he hopes to repeat past economic success by enacting bills to improve the state’s infrastructure, ultimately creating jobs to help spur recovery from the economic downturn.

In addition to general infrastructure upgrades, Corman also has high hopes for natural-gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale rock formations in central Pennsylvania, which he called a tremendous opportunity for the state, both to be at the center of an effort that could reduce dependency on foreign energy sources and to keep Pennsylvanians working.

A key, though, for both infrastructure improvements and exploration of the Marcellus Shale, is having a pool of capable employees.

“A skilled workforce is imperative,” he said. “We need to have a workforce that can handle all this work.”

Community colleges and technical colleges like Penn College can be a “major force” in providing those employees, he said.

“Having a school like Penn College or others that can prepare this skilled workforce is a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

Penn College recently partnered with Penn State Cooperative Extension to open the Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center, which, among other services, will help provide research, training and new-technology development.

Funding for higher education has not been a priority under current Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Corman claimed. On the plus side, the governor has given high priority to basic education, but Corman said keeping higher education affordable and accessible is important. “It’s something that we need to try to do better,” he said.

Corman, who lives in Bellefonte, represents the 34th Senatorial District, which includes all of  Juniata and Perry counties and parts of Centre, Mifflin and Union counties. He first ran for office in 1998, following in the footsteps of his father, Sen. J. Doyle Corman, who retired from the same senatorial seat after holding it for 20 years.

But it was in 1995 when he began working as state director for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum that Corman got excited about holding public office.

“Around 1995 was when the (U.S. Rep. Newt) Gingrich revolution started; there were a lot of exciting things happening at that point,” he said. “That was really my first exposure to public service; (helping) people with local problems and getting involved with local communities really sparked my interest.”

His father and Santorum have provided great support, he said, both lending opinions when asked, but neither offering unsolicited advice.

“I’ve been fortunate in my life to have good role models,” he said, counting in that group Williamsport radio personality Ken Sawyer.

Corman lived in Williamsport for three years, with two of those years spent pursuing an associate degree in electronic media at Penn College. In addition to spending a year as general manager of the college’s radio station, he also worked at local radio station WRAK as a sports broadcaster, where he met Sawyer.

“He’s a wonderful man and had a significant impact on my life.” Sawyer, he said, showed him the meaning of work ethic and professionalism.

After earning his associate degree from Penn College, Corman went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.

“Being able to communicate with people … has been extremely helpful to me in my career,” he said.

Corman gains his greatest satisfaction as a senator from having an impact on the community in which he lives and represents, counting one of his greatest joys in helping create a climate that allowed a Mifflin County employer to bring new jobs to that area.

“I, like everyone else, want to live in a place that has a good economic climate, good schools and safe streets,” he said.

Outside of the joys and frustrations of his senatorial work, Corman focuses on his wife, Kelli, and their three children, all between the ages of  2 and 6.

“That is my life,” he said. “Trust me, that’s a full-time job.”■